I cooked food from Turkey and Cyprus on the fourth week because it was Christmas, and apparently St. Nicholas was a Turkish Saint. This caused mild confusion when my family expected me to bring an actual cooked Turkey to Christmas lunch. I stand by my choice, given that it’s often above 30 degrees Celsius in Brisbane at Christmas, and Turkish food is a little more suited to this climate than cooking and eating an entire Turkey. Turkish cuisine sits at the centre of many influences, including Middle Eastern, Greek, Caucasian and Asian. I always think cuisines that have had a long history of trade and culinary plasticity are the best – there’s just more flavours and influences historically for them to choose from, and the recipes that last are the best of the best.
Lamb kofte and mercimek koftesi with Turkish salad, muhammara, haydari and bazlama
This was the Christmas spread I brought to my family. The lamb kofte were spiced with dried mint, onion, garlic, paprika and cumin, while the mercimek köftesi were red lentil and bulgur (cracked wheat) patties, with tomato and similar spices (vegan-appropriate). They were a pretty great meat-substitute, and a good idea if you ever need to make a platter that can satisfy all sorts of dietary requirements. Turkish salad is a bit like Greek salad, and muhammara is a chunky red sauce made from stewed onions and roast capsicum in pomegranate molasses. It’s seriously delicious – tangy and sweet and great with bread. Haydari is a yoghurt and garlic sauce, and bazlama is a Turkish flatbread. I made the bread from scratch, with yeast and Greek yoghurt. I think this was my first ever attempt at cooking with yeast. I’ve cooked a lot of diverse dishes before, but bread has never been very high on my to-do list. I had a slight hiccup when I interpreted the temperature of the water you add the yeast to as Celsius, rather than Fahrenheit, and added my yeast to boiling water (thus killing them all). That was a bit embarrassing, seeing as part of my day job is to do molecular biology, and therefore know the limits of eukaryote environmental stressors. In my defence, Christmas is pretty tiring and I realised my error very quickly and did it properly. Also, come on USA, we’re all in Celsius out here, join the party! The bread was a great texture – a bit crunchy but still soft and awesome with the dips. Altogether it was a merry Turkish Christmas!
Turkish pide (pronounced pee-day) is often called “Turkish pizza”, but without the tomato base, and in a boat shape. I made mine with handmade dough, stuffed with spiced sausage and cheese, spinach and feta, and lamb and capsicum. The boats came a little unhinged during the cooking process, but still held their fillings well – I would use water to stick the edges together better next time. The boat concept is pretty great because you can stuff a lot of filling in, and still have a pretty manageable pastry. This is a great dish if all you want to eat is pizza, but want to seem more exotic and worldly at the same time.
I think eggs have been unfairly relegated to breakfast time in our society. There. I said it. They’re so delicious and perfect, and not as linked to cholesterol and heart disease as asserted in the 90s (purportedly). Therefore, I can always get behind lunchy/dinnery dishes where the main protein source is eggs. This is such a meal, where a thick chunky sauce is made from tomato, capsicum, pepper, onion, garlic, and oregano, and then eggs are baked into it at the end. I served mine with haydari and green beans in tomato. This was super quick, easy and delicious, just make sure you leave the yolks runny or you’ve missed an opportunity. Solid yolks are just wrong anywhere except hard boiling, and that is a fact.
I’m a big fan of stuffing vegetables, I think it’s a good facsimile of the “meat pastry” concept, but much easier to do and usually better for you. Capsicum, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkin – stuff it and I’m in. So I was drawn to these stuffed eggplants straight away, making the stuffing out of onions, garlic, tomatoes, mint and lamb mince. I baked them and then drizzled a garlic sauce over the top, which I think is a nice contrast with the lamb. You could also easily make this vegetarian without sacrificing much flavour.